Thursday, June 15, 2017

Exploiting Queer Trust

There's been a lot of commentary -- much good, some not -- about the decision by Jewish Voice for Peace to "target" (their organizer's words) the LGBTQ group Jewish Queer Youth for infiltration and disruption at the Celebrate Israel march last week (I highly recommend JQY's statement on the event). JQY is oriented towards the at-risk Jewish queer community, especially Orthodox Jewish youth who may not have other safe or comfortable venues where they can come out. Accordingly, JVP's decision to target JQY -- and with it, a particularly vulnerable Jewish and queer population -- has been met with withering criticism by much of the rest of the Jewish community.

But I particularly want to highlight this column in Bustle by Hannah Simpson, a transgender activist with JQY who was present at the parade. JVP has defended its actions by noting that the infiltrators were themselves queer Jews. But Simpson explains, in succinct and cogent terms, just how awful JVP's actions were in the context of an organization like JQY and its efforts to provide a safe and welcoming space for at-risk queer youth.
This attack was nothing short of hurtful and terrifying. JVP violated a key tenet of the work Jewish Queer Youth and so many pro-LGBTQ groups do across this country. We welcome new members seeking hope and community through our programming, often before they are “out” anywhere else. We emphasize being open and accepting all who come through our doors. However, thanks to JVP’s violation of this trust, Jewish Queer Youth and other groups nationwide may need to scrutinize new members. Our priority is making our members feel safe, but this attack shows our openness may be abused to put our members in jeopardy.
This is really important. Part of what JQY provides for at-risk queer Jews is a space of trust. A space where they won't be viewed with suspicion, where they'll be welcomed unconditionally. Indeed, one of the more powerful portions of the JQY statement was where it went out of its way to affirm that
We also respect that there are JQY teens with strong feelings against Israel.  Some even choose to peacefully protest the parade. JQY stands with them too. Support is never contingent on point of view. Our JQY guiding Jewish principle is Eilu v' Eilu divrei elokim chaim - both these and those ideas, even when in conflict, are simultaneously the living word of G-d.
Contrast that statement with JVP's fundamental disrespect for queer Jews who don't adopt their views. It is striking.

To clear: JVP's action worked because JQY was built around the principle of not questioning who decided to walk with them. This is, sadly, a very common tactic of reactionary and illiberal militancy: exploiting open society in order to undermine it. The effect -- very often the hope -- is to undermine those open features and replace them instead with a cloistered environment of fear and mistrust. In the context of the LGBT community, it takes features that are desperately needed and leverages them against the queer population for the sake of political theater.

For vulnerable Jews who often lack for spaces where they can simply be queer, Orthodox, political, apolitical, happy, celebratory, among friends, JVP's action was more than just "anti-Israel protest". It took away something very rare, and very precious.

In electing to proceed anyway, either JVP didn't think about that consequence. Or it did.

1 comment:

Nick said...

This could have been written a year ago about Omar Mateen.